Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Folklore’ Category

Two Euchee (Yuchi) Baskets in the Collections of the Philbrook Museum of Art

The basketry traditions of the Native South have experienced divergent histories from a common regional tradition of work basketry. Among the North Carolina Cherokee, for instance, the indigenous river cane basketry tradition was augmented with the adoption of an old European white oak splint basketry practice and a more modern vine runner basketry practice using Japanese honeysuckle. The two older traditions are focused on workbasket forms, even as these have increasingly become works of art and heritage appreciated as aesthetically compelling collectables rather than tools of labor. The vine runner basketry made in honeysuckle added graceful forms intended by their makers to be visually appreciated more than used for rough labor. The richness of Cherokee basket making, up to the present, has been facilitated through an arts and crafts market fostered by the location of the Eastern Cherokee community in a key tourism destination at the eastern gateway to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. While workbaskets were, for a time during the early 20th century, presented for sale to outsiders among the Florida Seminole, Florida Seminole basketry shifted in that century to decorative craft baskets made from coiled sweet grass. As in Cherokee, North Carolina, these baskets were crafted with non-Seminole tourist-collectors in mind.

Not all Southern Native communities reside in locales where tourism and tourist craft markets could foster (and reshape) local basketry practice. In many native communities, local baskets were used less and less for work—replaced by commercial containers—and thereby they became less and less common, as did knowledge of their construction and use. In some contemporary Native communities, a commitment to revitalize tribal cultures has more recently led to a renewal of basketry practices, not so much for external consumption but as heritage endeavors celebratory of local traditions. This dynamic is found among the Catawba (ex: “Catawba Indian basket maker revives almost-lost ancient tradition”) and among numerous groups—such as the Chickasaw—who have begun regularly organizing basketry classes (ex: “Chickasaw Nation to host basket weaving class”).

While revivals of the sort that numerous communities are pursuing can be initiated in the near or distant future, there are some communities in which basketry has quietly fallen into obsolescence. As with heritage languages, we might describe basketry in such communities as “sleeping”—especially when extant baskets are present in museums and some ethnographic documentation of basket making or use has been made. As with “sleeping languages,” sleeping basketry traditions are capable of being revitalized, especially when knowledge can be gained from basket makers among neighboring peoples sharing similar practices.

While they are an extraordinarily vital community in many other ways, sleeping describes the present state of basketry among the Euchee (Yuchi) people now residing in Tulsa, Creek, and Okmulgee Counties in (present-day) Oklahoma. (For the remainder of this note, I will just use the “Euchee” spelling.) To my knowledge, eight Euchee baskets are curated in museum collections. Then a Ph.D. student in anthropology, Frank G. Speck collected five Euchee baskets in the Sand Creek tribal town near Bristow, Indian Territory in 1904. These were purchased with funds from the American Museum of Natural History and are preserved in its collections. They can be studied in the AMNH’s online database and were discussed in Speck’s Ethnology of the Yuchi Indians, a book-length study that is now freely accessible via the HathiTrust Digital Library and the Internet Archive (see pages 31-34). [If consulting the AMNH database, see numbers 50 / 5368, 50 / 5369, 50 / 5370, 50 / 5371, and 50 / 5372]

One Euchee basket is cared for by the Columbus Museum in Columbus, Georgia. (I hope to report on it later.)

Of interest here are two baskets close to the present-day Euchee community, at the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Oklahoma. These two baskets (I believe, the only ones in Oklahoma museum collections) are significant in a number of ways that I will narrate here.

They are, to my knowledge, the most recently collected baskets from among the Euchee. Some Euchee families preserve heirloom objects from the past, but I have not been shown or told about old workbaskets in the possession of the Euchee families that I know. There is a chance that these two were among the last in Euchee hands.

They were collected by famed basketry collector Clark Field. One can learn more about Field and his collection in the volume Woven Worlds: Basketry from the Clark Field Collection edited by Lydia L. Wyckoff and published by the Philbrook Musuem of Art. Field collected these two baskets from Johnson Tiger, then living in Kellyville, Oklahoma. [Kellyville is a municipality in the territory of the Yuchi Tribal Town known as Polecat (after nearby Polecat Creek)].

Tiger indicated for Field that the first of the baskets (catalog number 1963.13.2) was made by his grandfather George Fulsom and dated to 1875. George Fulsom was age 57 at the time of the 1910 census and thus he was born around 1853. If the basket was actually crafted in 1875, this would have been when George Fulsom was about 22 years of age. Field paid Tiger $27.50 for the basket in 1962, which would be about $218 in 2016 dollars. (As noted below, it may be that this amount was the price paid for both baskets.)

IMG_5425

Euchee tray or fanner basket of river cane. Collected from Johnson Tiger in 1962 and attributed to his grandfather George Fulsom. Late 19th century. Polecat Tribal Town. Philbrook Musuem of Art #1963.13.2. Used with permission of the Philbrook Museum of Art.

This plaited basket is made of river cane, the primary material out of which baskets were historically made in the Native South, but a plant that was and is increasingly rare generally and that is particularly rare on the western edge of its range in Oklahoma. Like most of the known Euchee baskets, this example was one of two fundamental tools used in processing corn for food. (It could be used, of course, for other activities, including other food processing ones.) With a solid bottom, this kind of basket was used to both catch grain falling through a sifter (sieve) basket and for fanning grain that has been pounded (or ground) so as to separate the grain from the chaff.

As J. Marshall Gettys has noted, this basket is interesting because it is made of rivercane (the region’s old material) but it has a reinforced rim assembled in a style more common in European American basketry styles. In river cane trays or sifters in the South, a braided rim (as found in the second basket, below) would be more common (Gettys 2001:182).

The second basket was likely long used as a pair with the first one. It (catalog number 1963.13.3) is a sifter basket or sieve. Johnson Tiger told Field that Fannie Fulsom, his grandmother and the wife of George Fulsom, made this basket. As with the first basket, he dated it to 1875. According to the 1910 census, Fannie Fulsom was 45 in 1910, indicating that she was born around 1865. If this is correct and if the basket were made in 1875, then she would have been age ten at the time of its manufacture. While it is possible a ten-year-old made it, my intuition is that it was either made at a later (but still probably nineteenth century) date or by a different maker. Like all of the other Euchee baskets in museum collections, this (and the other Philbrook basket) shows extensive wear from practical use. Especially noteworthy is the way that the basket was patched with cloth strips. Because they are woven with evenly sized openings in their bases (bottoms), sifter baskets are more fragile than fully woven trays, such as the other Philbrook basket.

IMG_5454

Euchee sifter basket or sieve in river cane style but made with hardwood splints, probably hickory. Collected from Johnson Tiger in 1962 and attributed to his grandmother Fannie Fulsom. Late 19th century. Polecat Tribal Town. Philbrook Musuem of Art #1963.13.3. Used with permission of the Philbrook Museum of Art.

The Philbrook records do not preserve a purchase price for the second basket. It is possible, but unproven, that the price recorded for the first basket was a price for both baskets.

While this basket has a braided rim in the region’s aboriginal style, it is made not of river cane but of narrow splints of hardwood (probably hickory). My interpretation of this material is that it represents an Indian Territory (/Oklahoma) adaptation in a setting in which river cane was difficult to obtain. To my knowledge, it is only in Oklahoma that we find Southern river cane-based forms produced in materials other than river cane. Elsewhere in the South, newer materials were utilized in altered, adopted, or innovated forms.

Euchee basket making may continue to sleep. If it does, that should not be taken to mean that Euchee people lack appreciation for the baskets, basket making, and the basket-using of their ancestors. Elders I have known, from the 1990s to the present, have often recalled memories of how baskets such as these were used. These stories were never simply for my benefit. They are regularly shared with audiences of younger Euchee people. The tellers of such stories are eager to preserve a memory of past Euchee ways of life. The moral of such stories often center on how hard older Euchee people worked to care for their families and communities and how they possessed and use specialized cultural knowledge to sustain a rich and self-sufficient social life in the face of hardships and limited financial resources. In the late 1990s, I worked with cultural leaders from the Euchee community to organize an exhibition at Tulsa’s Gilcrease Museum. For this exhibition, two of the AMNH baskets were lent and displayed. Euchee elders noted how well-worn these baskets were. This prompted not only an appreciation for their industry of their ancestors, but also laughter at the thought that the baskets unnamed Euchee owners turned a nice profit selling end-of-life, totally worn out, baskets to an earnest young scholar from the East. They also appreciated the fact that some Euchee work baskets still existed in the world and would thus be available for future generations to see and appreciate. These thoughts apply, I think, to the two baskets that Johnson Tiger sold to Clark Field in 1962.

Thank you to my friend Christina Burke, Curator of Native American and Non-Western Art at the Philbrook Museum of Art for letting me spend time with these two baskets, not once but twice. Thanks also to the Euchee elders who have shared their people’s past and present with me.

CFP: Unfinished Stories: Folklife and Folk Narrative at the Gateway to the Future

Unfinished Stories: Folklife and Folk Narrative at the Gateway to the Future

The 2016 Joint Meeting of the American Folklore Society and the International Society for Folk Narrative Research

October 19-22, 2016

Hyatt Regency Miami, Miami, Florida, USA

The joint meeting of the American Folklore Society (AFS) and the International Society for Folk Narrative Research (ISFNR) will bring together more than 800 US and international specialists in folklore and folklife, folk narrative, popular literature, and related fields to exchange work and ideas and to create and strengthen friendships and working relationships.

The meeting will feature a number of plenary lectures as well as panel and forum presentations of work by folklorists and their allies in 14-17 concurrent sessions for four days. In addition, participants may register for workshops and tours that will offer an introduction to some of Miami’s cultures and communities.

Prospective participants may submit proposals for papers, panels, forums, films, and diamond presentations or propose new presentation formats. Proposal submission begins February 1 and ends March 31. Presentations on the theme are encouraged but not required.

Proposals will be reviewed by a committee of ISFNR members and of folklorists who live in the region hosting the meeting. AFS will send notification of acceptance or rejection for the meeting program in early June and post an online preliminary program schedule by July 1.

You can find more information about the meeting, including instructions for submitting proposals, beginning February 1, 2016, at http://www.afsnet.org/?2016AM.

Theme: Unfinished Stories: Folklife and Folk Narrative at the Gateway to the Future

Throughout its history, Florida has served as a sustained point of cultural convergence and exchange. Its tropical climate, burgeoning economy, and geographic proximity to the Caribbean and Latin America have influenced its cultural identity. South Florida was shaped by early migration from the United States and Caribbean Islands, as well as influxes of political refugees during the second half of the 20th century. Miami, known as the “Gateway of the Americas,” is now perceived as one of the largest and most significant Latin American and Caribbean cities. As Miami continues to evolve through cultural synthesis, it serves as a leader in terms of its transnational identity and experiences.

In addition to being termed a “Gateway,” Miami has also been described as a “City of the Future.” As such, it offers inspiration for multiple perspectives on the future development of folk narrative and folklife, both within the region and in larger contexts. Relevant topics include transnational communities, cultural synthesis and creolization, the impact of the digital revolution on folk culture, narratives about land and place, traditional responses to climate change, and much more. Conference participants may reflect on these unfinished stories as they appeared in the past and also consider the future of our fields, including emergent theories, methodologies, and ethics.

The organizing committee invites participants to explore the narrative dimensions of their work, regardless of topic.

Contact info:

Lorraine Walsh Cashman
American Folklore Society
Eigenmann Hall, Indiana University
1900 East Tenth Street
Bloomington, IN 47406
812-856-2422; fax: 812-856-2483
www.afsnet.org
lcashman@indiana.edu

Joanna Ella
Secretary
International Society for Folk Narrative Research
www.isfnr.org
jella@gwdg.de

What is European Ethnology? The International Society for Ethnology and Folklore (SIEF) has a great answer.

I wish the membership of the American Folklore Society, the American Anthropological Association, the Council for Museum of Anthropology, the American Society for Ethnohistory, and/or the Society for Cultural Anthropology could cook up a short video this good. Congrats to our great SIEF friends–some of whom appear in this video.

Notes on Thoughtfulness in Scholarly Publishing (1): A la Carte Pricing

Today a senior scholar whose work I greatly respect called me an asshole. This was in response to my being snarky in a social media environment. Snarky is probably never a good stance to take. This was a reminder. I will not revisit the episode except to acknowledge that, in a diffuse way, it motivates the post (perhaps a series of posts) initiated here.

One definition of “thoughtfulness” provided by the Oxford English Dictionary, characterizes things this way:

Showing thought or consideration for others; considerate, kindly.

I was not thoughtful in my snarky comment, although it was motivated out of concern for others.

This note on publishing thoughtfulness is not in first position relative to other notes in some kind of procedural or conceptual sequence. It is just a fragment from a bigger statement or recommendation that could be composed. Its is just one piece of the larger picture of scholarly publishing practices that is on my mind today. No one is obligated to follow this counsel, of course. For anyone who is interested, here is one thoughtfulness recommendation. (The post presumes academic publishing in scholarly journals without consideration of author payment. People writing for a living in magazines and newspapers have important and different concerns.)

Before submitting an article to, or agreeing to contribute a review to, a particular scholarly journal, find out how much the a la carte price to access that work is going to be.

This is easier said than done for a host of platform and PR reasons. Before I offer some tips on doing it, here are some arguments as to why this is a thoughtful thing to do.

As I discussed in an essay for anthropologies, only a tiny portion of the world’s population has institution-based access to the scholarly literature. (Even fewer have personal subscription-based access.) This means that most people will simply not be able to legally access your work. This opens the door to an open access discussion, but I am not going to open that door. Forget it. Forget about retaining your rights. Forget about green open access. Forget about all that stuff. Just focus on a la carte pricing.

If a person has the ability to discover your work but lacks the ability to read it behind a paywall, publishers have a solution. Pay-per-view is that solution. I call it a la carte because it involves paying money for a single item of scholarship, rather than some larger bundle of scholarship.

Depending on the publisher and platform, this price can be relatively modest or (by most people’s standards) rather high. For poor people, your “relatively modest” may count as rather high, but we are not dwelling too much on that here. (See the anthropologies paper for that kind of talk.)

If you do scholarship without any institutional affiliation whatsoever, it is actually easier to find the a la carte price. Use a smart phone or some other internet connecting device and drill down to the item you want (or that counts as your investigative test case) via whatever digital platform it exist on. When you get to the end of the line, you will be at a toll gate. Chance are good that there is a price tag attached to the item. Pay the amount and get through the gate. You may get to read it for a time period before it evaporates or you may get to “keep” a PDF for an extended period. There are many variations on the use rights you are buying at the gate. For now, the key thing is figuring out the price. (Just keep in mind that you are not really buying anything. You are leasing certain use rights. You cannot give your version away, for instance. Get the used bookstore image out of your mind.)

If you work at an institution of higher education with some kind of library funded access to the scholarly literature, the a la carte price may be hard to find. Those wonderful librarians are working to make your use as seamless as possible. This means not only do they struggle to find the cash (often tuition dollars) to pay for your access, but they also make keen technological arrangements to keep it easy for you. One of these is keying access to machine IP address. Access a journal platform from an on-campus machine or via a laptop that has been configured to act like one, and you may not see the paywall. If you get in seamlessly, you never see the a la carte price and thus may not even realize there is one. Publishers like this about their platforms. Its a design feature. One designed to keep you from thinking about how much is being charged to access their work.)

A thoughtful author can do a bit of work to find the a la carte price before making a publishing decision. Have you been asked to review a book? How much will your review cost? About to send out your manuscript. If you succeed, how much will someone pay to read you?

Were you asked to write a review for a Routledge journal like Folklore? Go to the site and see. That journal recently published a two page review of a book called Tales of Kentucky Ghosts. This two page review costs $37.00 plus local taxes. Forgetting the taxes, that comes to $18.50 per page. At Routledge, the price is flat per item, thus a 28 page article in a recent issue of Ethnos comes to $1.32 per page. [Why did I pick on that review of Tales of Kentucky Ghosts particularly? Well, consider this. The book itself can be purchased for $14.97 in a kindle edition from Amazon. Six cents per page for the book being reviewed in the $18.50 per page review.]

For Wiley journals “You can purchase online access to this Article for a 24-hour period (price varies by title).” To do this (or to see the price) you have to make a Wiley account and login. To purchase a review of the book Dacha Idylls: Living Organically in Russia’s Countryside from the American Anthropologist costs $12 for 24 hour access to a 1 page review. City and Society content also costs $12 for 24 hours. Thus a recent 17 page article therein comes in at a just 70 cents for an entire day of reading. [One can get Dacha Idylls from Amazon for $15.99 for as long as the technology lasts…]

Considering Public Culture published by the not-for-profit Duke University Press, you can pay per view in it for $15 for two days of access. The editor’s letter in its recent number is four pages, making it $3.75 per page for 48 hours. Because the rate is flat, the price per page goes down as the page count goes up.

Social Forces published by Oxford University Press? $35 for 24 hours.

Of course, such a quest my lead to discovering that a journal does not provide a la carte access. (Ethnology seems to be one example of this. American Antiquity seems to be another.)

Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory? $0 for infinite hours. (Amusing myself with that one–of course there is no a la carte price at Hau–its a gold OA journal.)

You get the point.

One kind of thoughtfulness in publishing decisions focuses on the end price to legally access the scholarship that we give to publishers with the hope that they will get it before the eyes of interested readers. If I used only the data presented above, I cannot easily make a case for one toll access publisher over another. It gets easier when other considerations are brought into play. Still, if you recoil at the idea of someone paying $35 to read your book review or at the idea that someone would pay the same about to rent access to your article for a single day, then the thoughtful thing to do is to not publish in such venues or, if you must, to do so in a way that allows you to legally share your work in green open access ways.

Artworks Features IU Folklorists Kate Horigan (on Urban Legends) and Jon Kay (on TAI)

The latest episode of WFIU’s program Artworks does a great job of introducing the work of two of my IU Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology colleagues. Kate Horigan discusses so-called urban legends, the subject of one of her current courses. On the occasion of Traditional Arts Indiana being recognized with a Governor’s Arts Award, Jon Kay describes its many projects around the state of Indiana. No point of my writing about it, when the great show is there ready for you to listen to. Find it here:

http://indianapublicmedia.org/artworks/tais-governors-arts-award-urban-legends-late-john-thom/

The Textile Museum | Out of Southeast Asia: Art that Sustains

While in Washington, I had a chance to visit The Textile Museum in its historical location amid the city’s embassies. I say historical because the museum is now preparing to move to the George Washington University campus.* I had not been to the museum previously (although I follow its work at a distance) and was eager to see it as it has been before it becomes what it will be next. The logic of the move is apparent, but the “old” museum had many charms. It is obvious that the museum’s building–a beautiful and stately old home–has been taken as far as it can be taken as a museum site. It was warm (in the good sense) and comfortable and attractive, but it is surely a challenge to use as a site for research, collections care, and public programs and exhibitions. That said, the facility seemed optimized within the scope of its limitations and I am certain that longtime visitors will miss the old site, as it really was comfortable and nice for small groups of visitors coming and going on a weekend morning. (With the preparations for the move, only the first floor is being used for public visitation, so I cannot comment on the upstairs areas.)

A main first floor exhibition gallery was renovated at some point to make it into a typical art museum gallery, disguising its presence in a large historic home. This space hosted the last temporary exhibition to be staged at the old location–Out of Southeast Asia: Art that Sustains.

Also accessible on the first floor was a welcoming desk and a truly remarkable gift shop where a pair of very kind museum staff members were stationed. Further back on the first floor was a “family room” space where guests were treated to cookies and lemonade. This room led to the back garden–a beautiful green space from which one can see glimpses of the embassies surrounding the museum. (Returning to the subject of the shop, it is a real model of the genre–well stocked, beautifully arranged, well staffed. Sourced globally, the shop offered beautiful and diverse textiles and textile-related objects, along with books at many different price levels. Even a hardened museum professional with little interest in textiles would be impressed by the shop.)

The exhibition focused on Southeast Asian textile traditions as inspiration for contemporary textile design and construction in the work of batik artist Vernal Bogren Swift (whose work draws upon the example of Javanese batiks), weaver Carol Cassidy (whose work draws upon her engagements with Lao weavers and weaving), and a husband and wife team working in batik–Agus Ismoyo and Nia Fliam. Contemporary work by these artists were exhibited alongside historical pieces from the museum’s collection and private collectors.

The work was impressive and the interpretation sound, but I focused my attention on the display strategies used for the display of these attractive works. Textiles are challenging to exhibit and The Textile Museum clearly has cultivated skills needed for first rate display. I filled several pages of my notebook trying to record the techniques used in impressive, conservation-friendly, presentations of these often delicate textiles. Hopefully we can draw upon these inspirations in future textile projects at the MMWC.

The exhibition was accompanied by a gallery guide, which is available online. A family guide was also available, as is a general educational room with adult-level books on world textiles and a range of hands on displays explaining weaving and other textile-related topics to children.

I am glad that I was able to visit the museum in its old location. The current exhibition and the museum as a whole were impressive. This is what I expected on the basis of the museum’s past projects and publications.

*See The Textile Museum’s press release for details on the move and a recent Inside Higher Education story by Kevin Kiley on the subject of U.S. museums being incorporated into colleges and universities.

UBIQUI-TEE: T-Shirts Design Culture

I was happy tonight to attend the opening for a great new exhibition organized by the Sage Collection and presented at the Indiana University Center for Art and Design Columbus (IUCA+D Columbus). Curated by Sage Assistant Curator Kelly Richardson, the exhibition is titled UBIQUI-TEE: T-Shirts Design Culture. It does a great job of framing the diversity of t-shirts and their many uses in global culture. The show was strikingly presented in a beautiful setting, the still relatively new design-focused center in beautiful downtown Columbus, Indiana.

Extensive Sage collections were supplemented by loans from a number of individuals and institutions, including the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, which lent shirts collected in Native American and African contexts as well as two wonderful, recently collected t-shirt quilts.

Congratulations to Kelly and everyone involved in the new show.

(Columbus had a great downtown. Go see the show.)

Coconut Rattles in Florida and Oklahoma

The diversity of materials used by Native peoples in the Americas to make hand rattles is pretty staggering. Among the farming peoples of the Southwest, Plains, Northeast and Southeast, gourds are one important material used for this purpose. Having the same basic form as gourd rattles, but unique to some Southeastern Indian peoples, are rattles, such as this Florida Seminole example, made from coconuts. William C. Sturtevant provided the coconut used here to Jack Motlow, from whom he commissioned it for $2.00 in 1951. This Florida Seminole example is made exactly like those used among the Southeastern peoples in Oklahoma, including among the Yuchi. (I commissioned Yuchi examples for the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa during the later 1990s.) Such rattles are called “gourds” in English in Oklahoma and are particularly suited to the outdoor dances of the region. Such rattles are loud and thus sound great when used, as they most often are, outside, in open spaces. (The holes drilled in the coconut amplify the rattle’s sound.)

This example is #301 in the William C. Sturtevant Collection, Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.

(The Seminole Tribune has published biographical profiles of two of Jack and Lena Motlow’s daughters. These profiles are of Louise Motlow and Mary Motlow Sanchez and are online.)

A Chitimacha Basket

Here is an image of a double woven river cane basket with lid from the Chitimacha people of Louisiana. It was purchased at auction in 1972 by William C. Sturtevant and is now in the collections of the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution (T070).

Baskets from Choctaw Fair, 1961

William C. Sturtevant’s collection includes a group of baskets purchased in 1961 at the Choctaw Indian Fair near Philadelphia, Mississippi. This example (above) is part of this group. It is number 580 and I have not yet learned who the artist who made it is. This basket is made from rivercane, a plant related to bamboo that is indigenous to the Southeast of North America.

To gain a sense of native basket making in the South as a dynamic cultural activity, check out these photographs from the 1st Gathering of Southeastern Indian Basketweavers in 2002. This was an event organized by the Louisiana Regional Folklife Program and the Williamson Museum.

Here is another basket from this group. A rivercane tray, it is number 576. Both are in the collections of the Department of Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.

%d bloggers like this: